Ryan Graves makes his NHL debut
Yarmouth hockey player Ryan Graves recalled by Colorado Avalanche last week
It was the call Ryan Graves of Yarmouth had been waiting years for but had dreamed about most of his life.
Graves, 23, made his NHL debut on Dec. 27 wearing #27 for the Colorado Avalanche in a league game versus the Vegas Golden Knights – an opposing team that didn’t exist when Graves was drafted to the NHL in the fourth round by the New York Rangers in 2013.
In a post-game interview with reporters, Graves was asked what it was like to be called up from the Avalanche’s affiliate Colorado Eagles to play in his first official NHL game.
“It was pretty surreal,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for that call for a few years now.”
Graves was acquired by the Avalanche franchise in a trade during the 2017-2018 season. He had done pre-season NHL exhibition play during training camps with the Rangers and Avalanche (scoring a goal with both teams) but had never gotten the chance to suit up for an official NHL game.
Last summer, as he prepared for the hockey season ahead, he was asked if he was discouraging that he hadn’t yet gotten to prove himself on an NHL roster. Graves said, “Basically you can’t look back, you just have to look forward and I’m hoping I get an opportunity in Colorado. And if and when I get that opportunity I’ll make the best of it.”
Which is what he did during his Dec. 27 debut. The 6-foot-5, 225-lb defenseman had two shots on net, as well as a hit and a block, during his 8:26 of ice time in the game in which the Knights edged the Avalanche 2-1. He told reporters he was happy with his performance.
The coaching staff appeared to be as well, as Graves played in his second NHL game just two days later in front of the Colorado home crowd against the Chicago Blackhawks. Graves delivered a big hit on Blackhawk Brendan Perlini and recorded five blocked shots in the game, which the Blackhawks won 3-2 in overtime with the Avalanche down a player due to a four-minute high-sticking penalty near the end of the third period.
The announcers on Altitude Sports and Entertainment, the local Avalanche affiliate, praised Graves’ performance in his first two NHL contests during the televised broadcast of the Avalanche-Blackhawks game, with former NHLer Mark Rycroft saying Graves, who has been playing AHL pro-hockey for four years, should have seen official NHL ice sooner than this and JohnMichael Liles, a former Colorado Avalanche defense all-star, noting the coaching staff was not afraid to throw Graves out onto the ice against Chicago top players Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
“It’s been impressive,” he said about Graves’ play. “I like how big he is . . . and how he moves with and without the puck.”
HIS DEC. 27 DEBUT
In the stands watching his first NHL game on Dec. 27 were Ryan’s father Ron Graves, his mother Monica Brennan and his girlfriend Clare Casey who had all boarded three separate flights on short notice to watch his debut in person. His mother had just landed in Halifax after spending Christmas with Ryan in Colorado when she found out he had been recalled by the Avalanche. She immediately made arrangements to board another plane.
“He played a great game,” his mother said. “We are very, very happy for him.”
Ryan’s dad Ron also used the word ‘surreal’ to describe the experience.
“You just wanted him to do well and not make any mistakes and just play to the best of his abilities, which he did,” he said. “He looked like he blended into the team very, very well.”
Ryan Graves told reporters he did have pre-game jitters but said that his coaches and the Avalanche players had told him to just go out, keep it simple and play his game, which he did.
SUPPORT FOR GRAVES
The amount of support extended to Graves and his family in advance of his first NHL game – through texts, phone calls, and messages through Facebook and Twitter – was huge from friends, family, past teams and past teammates. The support was particularly strong from his hometown of Yarmouth.
Yarmouth resident Adam Churchill was one of Graves’ minor hockey coaches in Yarmouth for six years. At the time Graves was drafted to the NHL in 2013, Churchill recalled going to a bantam AAA tournament where Graves was named the top defensemen out of 24 teams. He described him then as a big kid who “had a pro-like shot at the age of 14.” (Incidentally, Graves won the AHL all-star hardest shot competition in 2016 with a 103.4 MPH shot that would have placed him in third place had he made the same shot at the 2016 NHL all-star competition.)
The day after Graves’ NHL debut, Churchill summed up what a lot of people were feeling.
“It was exciting to see him get to play a game in the NHL,” he said, saying he had sent Graves a text wishing him the best and telling him to make the most of this opportunity. “I know he has worked extremely hard to get the chance to play and hopefully he will have more opportunities to stay up with the Avalanche.”
Graves has filled in for an injured player.
Former NHLer Jody Shelley – who always refers to Yarmouth as his hometown – also sent congratulations to Graves.
“I was excited for him, and I was excited for his family and then I was excited for the people in Yarmouth, I see how proud they are of him,” he told the Tri-County Vanguard, noting when Graves participates in Shelley’s annual Golf Fore Health tournament, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase hospital equipment for the Yarmouth hospital, everyone talks about how proud they are of his work ethic and of his successes throughout his hockey career.
“This is like watching a kid’s dream come true,” Shelley said. “It’s a special thing having a community behind you.”
Graves’ father Ron said he was receiving so many messages prior to the Dec. 27 game that he had to add more data on his phone within half an hour of arriving in Las Vegas.
“It’s just great to see the people of Yarmouth supporting Ryan, he truly appreciates it. And us as parents we appreciate it all,” he said, adding Ryan’s family hopes his experience serves as encouragement to other young people.
“We just want kids to know that if you work hard and you really believe in yourself, and your parents can support you in whatever way they can, that it is possible. Because we’re in Yarmouth it’s not a limitation. I think Ryan is an example of that,” he said. “I would encourage kids to just believe in themselves and dedicate themselves to the hard work it takes … It doesn’t matter what the dream is. For us it was hockey, it could be something different for someone else.”
As for Ryan, he was ever humble after his NHL debut. Although the Avalanche didn’t win the Dec. 27 game he told reporters, “It’s been a good experience and I’m very grateful for it.”
In a live second-intermission interview during the Dec. 29 broadcast of the game against Chicago, Graves was asked about what he thought of the confidence Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar had shown in him.
Said Graves, “It’s a process. Just trying to keep it simple, stick to my game and hopefully things go the right way for me and I’ll keep giving it my best effort.”
Ryan Graves on the ice during the warmup prior to his first official NHL game. He suited up with the Colorado Avalanche for a game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Ryan Graves speaks with reporters following his Dec. 27 NHL debut.
Ryan Graves of Yarmouth with his mom Monica Brennan at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas after making his NHL debut suited up for the Colorado Avalanche in a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 27.